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Why Nigerians should take their eyes seriously



The National Association of Optometry (NAO) is currently holding its 41st yearly national conference in Benin City, the Edo State capital. President of NAO, Dr. Damian Echendu, in this interview with The Guardian crew of IGHO AKEREGHA, Abuja Bureau Chief and SHOLA AYELABOLA, he reveals why some Nigerians are at the risk of permanent blindness and what his Association is doing to give more sight to Nigerians. Echendu is a graduate of Optometry from Abia State University and the University of Abuja where he read law. He also holds an from Manchester University in the UK and was re-elected president of the association in July 2014. His tenure expires next year July.
Impact as a president
Constitutionally, our members have a lot to benefit from the Association and becoming a member because we speak for the profession, we develop policies to ensure that Optometrists are well positioned both in private and public services.

We are more or less like a voice for the profession and being a voice, we ensure that their rights and benefits are protected. We make sure that if our members have issues with their practice, we are there to speak for them and to defend them, but not necessarily defending them if they are wrong but we ensure that there is a balance and justice because you cannot say somebody have done something wrong without a proof.But when they go wrong, we caution them. If our members are involved in any disaster we do come to their aide and if we lose any member, we also come to the help of the family.

The current executives of the Association have a group life insurance but a member is required to pay a token as little as N5000 and if anything bad happens, the member will get about a million naira which will be paid to the family. We also have what we call provisional indemnity and we made sure that all our members are part of it because you might be practicing but you would not know what would happen tomorrow.

Today, for anyone to cue into life insurance scheme, you must have indemnity cover if you don’t have it there is no way you will grow your business, apart from protecting you from liability that might arise in the course of practice, it also helps as government would not have anything to do with you if you are not covered.

Other benefits
For instance, we are organizing a conference now and this conference is to equip and train them for them instead of travelling abroad to spend so much money, which is not available. The conference provides our members opportunity to develop themselves and access new knowledge.

We have provided the environment for them to sit down and be trained by others. We have formed an optometry programme, which has helped in their practice. Before now, some members find it difficult to use certain equipment but now it is easy for those who have participated in the last three years in the activities of the optometry programme.

Theme of this year’s conference
The theme of this year’s conference is, Eye Health is the responsibility of All. The World Health Organisation, WHO, in partnership with International Organization of Blindness, have introduced what we call global action plan, which was aimed at reducing avoidable blindness by 25 per cent by 2019 and Nigeria is a signatory to the global body and the action plan and what we are trying to do is no longer a rule that people should be working on their own. Before now, government and private practitioners play active role in eye care.

What we are doing now is to bring on board all important stakeholders including government, optometry practitioners, the media, NGOs, pharmaceutical industries, drug manufacturers, educational sector, scientists and others so that we can brainstorm on how to solve the problem of avoidable blindness and reduce the scourge of blindness.

Impact of the conference on society
The society is going to benefit as all sectors are involved to reduce the rate of avoidable blindness and it is going to sensitize and enlighten members of the public to know the importance of checking their eye every year and it is going to reduce the rate of blindness. I will also make assess to eye care easy and affordable and effective. We shall be pushing government to extend eye care delivery to the grass root and the rural areas because presently, we have a small number of optometrists active in those places. We want to make sure that government recognize the importance of the optometrists and the need to involve them in primary eye care at the local level and if this is done, the rate of visual impairment will be reduced to the barest minimum.

Partnership with government
We are working with government and I will say that government is doing well in that aspect. For instance, the Governor of Edo State is expected at this conference. The Minister of State will be here, we will always work in partnership with government and they are fully involved. Apart from that, we do not just have the Federal Ministry of Health, we also have partnership with other government agencies like Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, and Federal Road Safety Corps and at this conference we are going to release a statement on driver’s vision in Nigeria. A research was done last year and we are going to publish it internationally and deliver it in this conference for us to know what we are doing to help the citizens.

We are also partnering with the Nigeria Consumer Protection Council to make sure that people’s rights are protected; we have quite a number of partnerships we have put in place to ensure that the public interest is safeguarded.

Tackling unemployment
We are doing a lot for our members who have graduated and members of the public because government is employing very little of our members and majority of our members (70 per cent) are in private practice and more than 20 percent of those that are in private practice are employing even those that are not Optometrists. They employ managers, accountants and front desk officers. You can see that they are doing to decrease the unemployment burden.

About the conference
The conference is something that Nigerians will benefit from because we are involving all stakeholders with respect to making sure that there is easy access to quality eye care for Nigerians. It is a big boost to the services we deliver to government and to get government to partner with us on the services we deliver.

Free medical care
The local chapters organise eye camps in the three senatorial zones for this conference to ensure that members of the public are sensitized and given free screening. Apart from this, every year, we conduct free screening, we offer glasses to members of the public and this year, we are targeting school children.

Just as we concentrated on drivers last year, this year we will be concentrating on children because if a child is not well taken care of, it is not good because what the eye see is what the brain takes, and a child that cannot see would have a lot of challenge in terms of development and every aspect of life both in education, working and everything he or she does that makes it important for the child’s vision to be properly checked.

Policy expectation from government
We have paid a courtesy visit to the Minister of Health for a policy to grant assess to eye care for women, children and the vulnerable because women and children are most involved with eye problem.

In this article:
Damian Echendu
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